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Fank: History
Dan Ursini

A commitment to improvising music that conveyed the truth of the moment, and the blues of the neighborhood- that's the common link in the band Fank over the course of all its shifts in identity during its four-year phantom existence. In late 1999 it began as a quartet with Bobby,"Chicago Babe,"Rothman on vocals, Mark Giangrande on synthesizers, Dan Ursini on Fender bass and Ludwig Zabrauskas on drums. By the end it, had become a six-piece core group with a couple guest soloists. From the start, the focus was on free-form jamming-but of the sort expected of people who are seasoned in both the arts and otherwise. They wanted to play and hear interesting stuff. They had an intuition on how to get to the point and to move on; and how can inject a form into a piece. Apart from Zabrauskas, the founding members were longtime maverick artists with a track record for cutting edge work in theatre and music. Yet all four shared an inclination to just get together and jam without bothering to put together a set list. An extraordinary benefit was rehearsal space in a vast old warehouse where they could play as loud as they wanted with impunity. It is located in an industrial section of Chicago's West Side That is an historic neighborhood, the birthplace of a lot of great blues and R&B - the home of the immortal Jimmy Reed and many others. A distinct blues inclination remained with the band even as it absorbed influences provided by the succession of guitarists who joined the band. The most notable included Len White, John Londay and Brian Sprong. Jazz guitarist Dave Miller made a couple jams, including a pivotal session that resulted in the band's first CD, "Fanked from Behind." Free jazz artist Laurie Lee Moses contributed her baritone sax to key jams. Like everyone else who knew about the band, she was attracted to the band's larger-than-life endowment of a form of artistic energy that's a hallmark of Chicago performing artists, across the board: music, dance, theatre. It is an industrial brand of adrenaline, providing a high combustion chemistry.

Though the lineup included a number of writers, original lyrics didn't work out- with the singular exception of, "I Ride Your Fragrance," for which vocalist Rothman put together the lyrics. One of the complications was the timeless problem any vocalist faces in a jam context: though good music can be created spur of the moment for a sustained length of time, true poetry can not, apart from the occasional inspired phrase. Rothman settled on using old blues lyrics, inventing melodies for them consonant with the emerging music. In that way Fank created new musical settings for many classic blues lyrics. Indeed some of them received a range of settings.

Despite doing virtually no live gigs, word about Fank got around, inspiring very serious interest in the Chicago blues community. To at least a couple insiders, it looked like Fank had found a way to truly bring the blues up to date. This was largely due to its capacity to synthesize the particular inclinations of the core musicians: Rothman's Chicago blues, Sprong's country blues; Giangrande's electronic/hard punk inclinations; Zabrauska's metal impulses; Ursini's funk/exotica leanings; Londay's speed metal hard rock gifts; As well, contributions were provided by Miller's supple jazz background; Moses' ability to play baritone lines with one foot in mid-century rhythm and blues and the other foot in 21st century free jazz. Unfortunately the band broke up just as it entertained a chance to appear at the 2003 Chicago Blues Festival. What-if scenarios are irresistible especially in instances of right talent/right gig/wrong time. What is beyond dispute is that the bright and talented members of Fank generated enough fresh ideas at each jam to keep going, week after week, for nearly four years. Check out some of the music posted and judge for yourself.